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BAMcinemaFest 2016 Ti West’s In a Valley of Violence

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BAMcinemaFest 2016: Ti West’s In a Valley of Violence
BAMcinemaFest 2016: Ti West’s In a Valley of Violence

A tentativeness courses through Ti West’s films. Watching them, one often feels as if the filmmaker’s approaching a boundary—separating genre trope from searing idiosyncrasy—that he doesn’t always manage to cross. West crossed this line in Trigger Man and, fitfully, in The Sacrament, which climaxed with an unsettlingly intimate staging of a Jonestown-like mass poisoning that calls into question the invasiveness of the film’s very formality. In these moments, West’s reverence for genre filmmaking merged with his gift for behavioral portraiture, fashioning a horror film that felt contemporary in its concern with media as offering only an illusion of “all access” to its subjects.

SXSW 2015 The Boy, 6 Years, & A Poem Is a Naked Person

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SXSW 2015: The Boy, 6 Years, & A Poem Is a Naked Person

Chiller Films

SXSW 2015: The Boy, 6 Years, & A Poem Is a Naked Person

Craig William Macneill’s sophomore feature, The Boy, got quite the rise out of a packed house on Sunday night in Austin, and it’s easy to see why: The film, a sensationalistic study of a cute-as-a-button only child, Ted (Jared Breeze), growing into a taste for murder at the desert motel he helps maintain with the most clueless dad in film history (David Morse), dredges up traces of beloved horror flicks like The Shining, Carrie, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre en route to its Grand Guignol finale. Even if his talents tip the scales toward overstatement, Macneill has a command for composition and rhythm that belies his skinny résumé, and one can’t help but be unnerved by Breeze’s relentlessly deer-in-the-headlights performance as the sociopathic Ted. It’s the kind of movie reflexively touted for its “bold vision,” a byproduct of a taboo subject tackled without restraint and an aesthetic that privileges the constant splashing of water on the audience’s collective mug via razor-blade cuts and booming sound transitions. In its unremitting sense that anything bad could happen at any moment, The Boy manages to ladle even afternoon pool lounging with sinister portent.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 13, "The Seven Wonders"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 13, “The Seven Wonders”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 13, “The Seven Wonders”

“The Seven Wonders” finds American Horror Story: Coven largely tending, predictably for the most part, to a final bit of plot bookkeeping. Fiona (Jessica Lange) is finally dead, after one last inevitable revival or fake-out or reversal, and apparently destined to spend her eternity catfishing with the Axeman (Danny Huston) in a realm presided over by Papa Legba (Lance Reddick), a demonic entity that’s retrospectively revealed to be entirely superfluous to Coven’s grand narrative scheme. Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) and Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) are installed as new Supreme Cordelia’s (Sarah Paulson) upper management, and it appears that their work will be cut out for all of them, as a swift PR maneuver has rejuvenated the institution with a global-wide new influx of troubled witches looking to hone their baffling new powers.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 12, "Go to Hell"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 12, “Go to Hell”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 12, “Go to Hell”

The penultimate episode of American Horror Story: Coven, “Go to Hell” finds the series still desperately scrambling to introduce busy conceits. Theoretically, we should be eagerly anticipating the revelation of Fiona’s (Jessica Lange) successor as the next Supreme, but how can we? As an audience, we never know if any event “counts,” or if it will be reversed to satisfy a new creative whimsy. The first two or three hundred character resurrections were a cheeky way of illustrating Coven’s ’s willingness to screw with viewer expectation, but that device, along with the witches’ highly varying procession of week-to-week powers, has long ago devolved into tedium. And somewhere down the line, creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk also lost a valuable sense of pace: Major events seem to rush by now in a barely coherent tizzy, while negligible vignettes eat up a significant portion of running time.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 11, "Protect the Coven"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 11, “Protect the Coven”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 11, “Protect the Coven”

With only two episodes remaining, it’s probably fair to say that American Horror Story: Coven has evolved in a fashion opposite to that of the prior American Horror Story: Asylum. Where the latter gradually discarded its various narrative convolutions to arrive at a conclusion of surprising emotional purity, the former opened with a confident sense of parody that’s been gradually cluttered up with a variety of desperately WTF tonal switcheroos. It’s difficult at this point to evade the suspicion that creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk prize the moment, the here and the now, above any particular thematic coherence—a development that won’t come as much of a surprise to those who watched Murphy’s initially addictive, eventually monotonously “outrageous” series Nip/Tuck. Which is to say that this week’s episode of Coven, “Protect the Coven,” is eventful without being especially involving, as Murphy and Falchuk’s game of “anything goes” appears to be very close to stalling out. If anything can happen, then nothing’s really at stake, as the writers have proven themselves perfectly willing to reverse or outright ignore any past development that has the potential to impede a moment of quick theoretical shock value or novelty.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 7, "The Dead"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 7, “The Dead”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 7, “The Dead”

Viewers, particularly straight males, may have found themselves in the position of actively envying two dead men while watching this week’s episode of American Horror Story: Coven, because, to put it bluntly, several of the witches were feeling rather randy. It finally dawns on Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) that Kyle’s (Evan Peters) unique stature as a fully ambulatory quasi-corpse renders him the ideal method of circumventing the dangers of her potentially fatal mating habits, though it admittedly takes the newly revived Madison (Emma Roberts) to fully convince her of this fringe benefit. To be fair, Zoe’s had a lot on her mind this week, as she’s also plotting a coup with Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) to overthrow Fiona (Jessica Lange) as the head of the Coven.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 6, "The Axeman Cometh"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 6, “The Axeman Cometh”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 6, “The Axeman Cometh”

In this week’s episode of American Horror Story: Coven, memorably titled “The Axeman Cometh,” an elegantly interlocking series of plot turns suggests a major character’s undoing. Most pivotally, we learn that Cordelia’s (Sarah Paulson) unfaithful, murdering husband, Hank (Josh Hamilton), has a larger stake in Fiona’s (Jessica Lange) escalating rivalry with Marie (Angela Bassett) than we could have reasonably suspected. Hank’s an agent, of sorts, working with Marie to help ferret out the locations of the remaining descendants of the Salem witches in order to systematically execute them. Kaylee (Alexandra Breckenridge), the gorgeous redhead who Hank killed in a hotel room a few episodes ago, was actually a witch who’d discussed joining the coven with Cordelia, only to resist in favor of pursuing a “normal” life. In one of the episode’s many flashbacks, we see Hank eavesdropping on the meeting and subsequently seeking out Kaylee, who was presumably just one of who knows how many other young victims.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 5, "Burn, Witch. Burn!"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 5, “Burn, Witch. Burn!”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 5, “Burn, Witch. Burn!”

For all the fuss that critics (including myself) have made of American Horror Story’s often gratifying determination to satirize the various forms of insidious (often white, always male) oppression that continue to dictate this country’s methods of social discourse, perhaps it’s worth reminding ourselves that the series is also a gleeful, wicked debauch. Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk suffer few indulgences of sentimentality, even of the kind that agrees with their probable politics, and that refreshing tendency is on full display in this week’s episode.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 4, "Fearful Pranks Ensue"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 4, “Fearful Pranks Ensue”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 4, “Fearful Pranks Ensue”

This week’s episode of American Horror Story: Coven, “Fearful Pranks Ensue,” is ideally timed to remind us that, while Halloween is now most typically acknowledged by the American middle class with parties, binge eating, and horror-movie marathons, it was, for many, once a dangerous pagan event in which spirits were to be bribed away from invading your home. Logically, Halloween is a big day for the witches of Coven, particularly for Fiona (Jessica Lange), who finds herself being investigated for Madison’s (Emma Roberts) murder by the Council of Witchcraft, the latter of which is amusingly imagined to include an obvious stand-in for Truman Capote. More importantly to Fiona, however, the council also includes former classmate and rival Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy), who’s sure that Fiona murdered the former Supreme, Anna Leigh (Christine Ebersole), years ago, as well as Madison the day prior, though she can’t quite prove the premeditation of either crime.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 3, "The Replacements"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 3, “The Replacements”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 3, “The Replacements”

There’s a moment late in “The Replacements” that indirectly addresses a curiosity I’d already had in regard to American Horror Story: Coven. Fiona (Jessica Lange) and Madison (Emma Roberts) are having drinks after recently discovering a commonly powerful interest in screwing around with other people’s heads, mostly out of their private contemptuous amusement. Fiona, who’d been looking at the past quite a bit throughout this episode already, admits to Madison that she was never a good mother to Cordelia (Sarah Paulson), and that, much worse, she was never much of a Supreme Witch. Madison counters with the obvious response in the face of what’s clearly vanity and self-pity cloaked under superficial regret: that it’s not too late. Fiona tosses off a sentiment that, yes, it’s indeed too late, and that she isn’t going to change, nor does she want to.